Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Should employers monitor employees' Internet use?

Employers are often faced with a difficult choice. Allow free access to the Internet to employees, or monitor usage to prevent abuse - a practice that discourages employees from using the Internet at all. One of the big advantages of allowing free access is that the Internet is a great source of information. Information that could be put to good use in the workplace. These benefits are hardly recognised.

There is no doubt that many emplyees abuse the free use of the Internet. Visits to porn sites, on-line gambling or just pointless surfing for hours on end.

The Internet has a wealth of information available on almost any topic. Information on industries, trends, best business practices, how others have solved similar problems and so on. Internet monitoring inhibits access to useful information as much as it prevents abuse.

Even where non-work related usage is concerned, there are many instances where using the Internet is more time-efficient than the alternatives. Does it really matter if the employee looks up the TV schedule on the Internet rather than referring to a newspaper or magazine? Or booking movie or theatre tickets, ordering products and services or on-line banking? Doing these on the Internet is very time-efficient and avoids the need for trips out of the office to achieve the same thing.

Then there is Facebook. Does it really matter if employees are messaging through this at work? Perhaps there could be some work related benefits? It probably uses less time than the inevitable long phone calls to and from friends and family.

Obviously, the expectation of responsible usage must be encouraged. Surfing should not be at the expense of getting work done. But there must be other ways of achieving a responsible attitude. Better leadership by management. Incentives. Productivity targets. Giving more responsibility to the employees. The relationship between employer and employees should be one of trust. Performance evaluation should be based on outputs. If the outputs are good then why worry about Internet usage?

In an age where empowerment has become a major buzz-word employees are being given more power to control the way they work and how they achieve their work related objectives. Empowerment means treating employees as adults. How can this be achieved if we treat them like children?

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